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Fire Safety in Horse Barns

Published: 2/6/2013
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Editor's Note: Here are some guidelines, kindly sent by Dr. Rebecca Gimenez, for protecting your horses from a barn fire and installing safety features so the dreadful never happens.
My personal safety tip is:
Don't Keep Your Horse In A Barn.

But if you must, follow these excellent measures, developed by MIchelle Staples, edited by Gimenez.

From Dr. Rebecca Gimenez:

Barn fire prevention requires a strategy like no other:
  • You must be able to DETECT a fire with good quality smoke/flame/heat detectors
  • So you can ALERT the response system
  • And SUPRESS the flame threat (usually via sprinklers) and of course have a RESPONSE such as the fire department arrive.
Sprinklers are something that the Fire Department strongly recommends, yet I know of very few barns that have them.

Why don’t horse barns have this crucial safety equipment as standard items?
My opinion is that veterinarians and fire department personnel are the very last experts to be consulted by horse people when they build a barn. They use the expertise and advice of their next door neighbor, the Internet, a $10 barn building book at Lowes or Home Depot, or engineer the entire thing themselves depending on the code enforcement in their jurisdiction. 

Sprinklers are much cheaper to install, maintain, and are far more reliable than in the past.  There really is no excuse not to put them into new barn construction, and retrofits are becoming far more affordable.

From Michelle Staples:


¨   Post your address very clearly in reflective numbers at the road

¨   Contact the fire department. Ask for minimum height and width requirements and turning radius for their vehicles

¨   Assure that driveway/road can accommodate fire department’s vehicles (no overhanging branches, gravel or other improved base, etc.)

¨   Fire department knows the location of all water sources on my property – ponds, wells, storage tanks, hydrants – and there is easy access to them

¨   Have a standpipe installed in the pond on my property (if applicable)

¨   Fire department knows the location of all emergency utility shutoffs

¨   Install stall doors that open to the OUTSIDE of EVERY stall

¨   If there is a lock on gate, have a lock box and give emergency responders have access.  If there is a combination lock, they have the combination

¨   Provide layout of the property in the lock box. Fire department also has a copy

¨   Clear a fire barrier along my road, all fences and along my driveway

¨   Clear all debris and dead vegetation from around stable

¨   No overhanging trees at my stable

¨   Make sure parking area does not impinge on access or turning room for emergency vehicles – no one is allowed to park vehicles or trailers in front of the barn except for temporary loading and unloading

¨   Clearly mark water spigots on all sides of stable, with attached hoses that will stretch the full length of the side of the barn

¨   Shovel and a ladder on each side of my stable

¨   “No Smoking” signs around stable and have inform boarders and visitors that smoking will not be tolerated around property


¨   Sprinkler system inside stable that was installed by a contractor and is prepared to handle the challenges of climate and water availability in area

¨   Clearly marked utility shutoffs. Boarders know where they are and how to turn them off

¨   Marked and updated fire extinguishers at each exit, and if stable is large I have one every 50 feet (minimum 10 pound extinguishers)

¨   Everyone knows how to use a fire extinguisher (and has shown that they do)

¨   More than one doorway from the inside leading out of stable and it is not locked when there are people inside

¨   Access barn doors open to the full width of the aisles

¨   Electrical wire encased in non-corrosive conduit

¨   Light fixtures encased in safety cages

¨   Do not use electrical extension cords anywhere in my barn

¨   Cobwebs, hay and debris are cleaned up on a daily and weekly schedule

¨   All doors to stalls are in good working condition

¨   No household extension cords, fans, heaters in stable.  All equipment is designed for use in a stable.  If using household electrical appliances (microwaves, coffee makers, etc.) then pay an electrician to upgrade the electrical service to that part of the barn

¨   Phone in my stable.  It is easily accessible, clearly marked, and emergency numbers and directions to the property are posted close by

¨   Every horse has a halter and lead rope on his OUTWARD FACING door

¨   Every horse and every boarder  has practiced emergency evacuation procedures (horses have practiced with and without a blindfold); and every horse has been introduced to a firefighter in turnouts

¨   Every boarder understands that once flames are seen in a fire, that NO ONE will be allowed to enter the interior aisle of barn, no matter how valuable the horses nor how “safe” it might appear to do so.  They understand that ALL horses must be extricated from the outside wall of barn.

¨   Design property to use a “run out” method of fire evacuation for the horses – where we can open the stall doors to the outside wall, chase the horses out into a laneway (without having to individually catch them), close the stall door, and all the horses run down the laneway to a safe holding area at least 100 feet from the barn.

¨   Every horse knows how to load into a trailer quickly and under any circumstance (veterinary emergency, wildfire evacuation, etc.)

¨   Hay and shavings are stored at least 50 feet away from stable (not above the horses)

¨   All fuel, and vehicles that run on it, are at least 50 feet away from my stable

¨   All aisles are clear of any hazards, including hay bales, tack boxes, electrical cords, and cleaning equipment such as rakes

¨   There is easy and clear access to a secure space away from the barn where horses will be evacuated

¨   Lightning protection on top of barn.

¨   Use flame retardant paints, varnishes and coatings on the wood.

¨   Hire a contractor to install a detection, alarm and suppression system.

¨   Barn evacuation and safety are discussed at every boarder’s meeting so that everyone is aware of the dangers

Additional Suggestions: Do a walk-through with your fire department, hire a certified electrician to evaluate your facility, and call a contractor to install your smoke/flame detectors and hardwire them to your security system.  Then call a contractor for a quote to install sprinklers, complete the project and see the significant savings on your insurance premium for doing the right thing. 

View Reader Comments:

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2/26/2013 Rebecca
Thank you for posting - I do hope that people will use and share this information.
1/2/2015 Elaine
Not everyone can afford all of those suggestions. Lots of other good ones that are easy to follow, though.
1/8/2015 Nancy
make your own "fire" halters .. these are slip over the ears halters made from regular nylon halters with throat latch part cut off, leaving the nose band and head stall intact and a cotton lead line attached, makes it easier and faster for fire fighters and stable personnel to get on a horse and out of the barn in case of a fire without having to try and buckle up the strap on a frightened horse .. we used all red halters to make one for each horse and it hangs right on the stall door within easy reach, once a month our fire dept brings over the fire fighters so they can practice putting them on, especially helpful if they have no horse experience.

"My horses are my friends, not my slaves" - Dr. Reiner Klimke